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Instances of mob attacks on mosques and destruction of shrines have also been reported, undermining the religious freedom, security and dignity of the Muslim community.Buddhist fundamentalism could be seen as a broader phenomenon in a number of Asian countries including Myanmar and Thailand.For years, the country’s political elite has deliberately ignored the extremist problem to prevent isolating the Muslim community who play a role in deciding the outcome of elections. While the Muslim population is concentrated in coastal areas such as Ampara, the Sinhalese communities are dispersed across different provinces.
The recent raids have disclosed that extremism is a much deeper and ingrained problem in Sri Lanka than most had realized.
To address this problem, counterterrorism authorities in Sri Lanka need to explore ways to dissuade young people from joining radical groups and deradicalize those who have already succumbed to extremist ideology.
Similarly, the three hotels that were attacked — the Shangri-La Hotel, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and The Kingsbury — are among the country’s most lavish hotels which attract wealthy tourists and locals alike.
As the raids continue, the government needs to come to terms with the fact that it is once again confronted with the problem of radicalization.
The Liberation of Tamil Tigers (LTTE), which invented the notorious suicide belt, was led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran, who encouraged young militants to become suicide bombers but never did so himself.
Over time, other terrorist groups in Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan used the deadly tactic but in none of them their leaders gave up their own lives.
Sirisena has taken a string of counter-terrorism measures, including requesting the resignation of Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara and calling for a complete security overhaul. He has also ordered nationwide raids where security forces have arrested about 70 people, including the NTJ’s second-in-command, and are looking for more suspects linked to the bombings.
The raids have uncovered bomb-making equipment, an Islamic State flag, and cache of explosives. The damage control, however, is unlikely to quell public anger that the country’s security sector failed to prevent or, at the least, minimize the scale of the attacks.
They have also worked hard to ensure that young members of their community do not get carried away by extremist sentiments.
Prior to the attack, the NTJ had not been to have orchestrated large-scale attacks. In fact, the group had been best known for desecrating Buddhist statues.